What Makes a Great TED Talk?

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What makes a Great TED talk?  What’s happening in those talks that have us captivated by the first sentence, hold us for the duration at emotional attention and leave us feeling inspired, energized and called to action? 

The seed of any TED talk is an idea – an ‘idea worth spreading’ that is planted by the speaker in the minds of the audience.  Like any seed, the idea is in a state of vast potential.  But it needs planting and nourishment to take hold

Planting happens firmly and concisely in the opening lines.  The best talks don’t leave us wondering about their intention, they come right out with it and establish their point boldly.  Nourishment comes through intellect, logic, data or aesthetics, the merits of the ideas’ uniqueness and the quality of the arguments in its favor.

But the great talks are more than planted and nourished ideas, they are emergent ideas that thrive.  And they do this by the ability of the speaker to connect with the audience emotionally.  It could be any emotion really:  empathy, disgust, shock, awe, charm.  But the ability of the speaker to connect with emotion to each planted idea is the magic. 

The best magic is always delivered through storytelling.  In particular, by a story that only the person planting the idea can tell.  The most effective narratives appeal to our shared nature, our collective humanness and serve to articulate, drive home or inspire.

And then the idea emerges, fully-formed and lucid, not just into the ether on the TED stage, but within the minds of the audience. It’s this transformation that is the mighty power of a great TED talk.